Musings about next year’s NFL landscape

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For the first time ever, “Maybe next year” carries no weight to Saints fans. “Next year” finally came in 2010 in the form of quite the Super victory.

That said … what about next year?

Before free agency and the draft, it’s too early to get a totally accurate read on what to expect next season.

But it’s never too early to speculate. Here are some early predictions for what we can expect as the Saints look to “Two Dat”.

The Houston Texans will be the New Orleans Saints of the 1010-11 season. The Saints of 2008 had a quarterback that led the world in passing, a highly questionable running game, and a penchant for losing all of the close games (six of the team’s eight losses came by a total of 18 points).

Well, the Texans fell by a touchdown or less in five of their seven losses this season. Matt Schaub just accounted for the sixth best single season total of passing yardage in NFL history (4,770). They had all kinds of trouble running the ball (30th in the NFL). They’re even coached by a former quarterback in Gary Kubiak.

There’s a lot of reason for optimism. The ball never seems to bounce the Texans’ way in close games – if not for a play here or there, this could have been an 11 or 12 win team this season. The running game can be fixed if a compliment is found for the explosive Steve Slaton, who should be dynamite if only asked to split carries and play on third downs. The Schaub-to-Andre Johnson (now the NFL’s best receiver) connection is going nowhere, and the defense has some nice cornerstones (Mario Williams, Brian Cushing and Demeco Ryans). Look for Houston to make its first Super Bowl appearance next season.

The Saints will face them in the Super Bowl. Sean Payton, Gregg Williams and Drew Brees offer an abundance of leadership to a very talented team. If the Saints can escape free agency without losing any core pieces and use the draft to bolster its defensive front seven, this team could be even better a year from now.

It won’t be easy — if Brett Favre returns, Minnesota and Dallas may again boast the NFL’s most talented rosters, as they did in my opinion this season. But the Saints leadership and attention to detail.

The Jets will have something to say about the AFC race. The Jets style is archaic by today’s NFL standard. If you can’t pass the ball in the NFL, you can’t win. The Jets run completely counter to that. They’re going to run, run, run, and trust their defense in the way that no other NFL team can these days. They can do this because of their Pro Bowl stacked line. They can do this because they go three deep at tailback. They can do this because they hit hard and tackle well.

They can do this most of all because of Darrelle Revis.

Revis is the kind of lock down corner that affords the Jets the luxury to leave another team’s top receiver singled all day long. That gives Rex Ryan the ability to attack opposing offenses — RE: quarterbacks — like nobody else.

This was a 9-7 team with quarterback Mark Sanchez learning on the fly. If he makes a leap forward, the NFL could be in some trouble.

Don’t count out New England. The run may well be over. It’s been almost a decade. But Bill Belichick doesn’t trade a Richard Seymour if he doesn’t think it’s a rebuilding year, and this was that if nothing else. Tom Brady will be a year removed from his injury. Finally, New England won’t be handcuffed by the NFL’s current free agency rules that state that any of the final eight teams in the NFL playoffs can’t sign a free agent before losing one of comparable value.

Losing to the Ravens in the first round may be the best thing for the Pats this coming season.

The South will rise again. Indianapolis, Tennessee and Houston will all challenge for 10-plus wins in the AFC South. In the NFC South, the Saints will have to fend off bounceback years from Atlanta and Carolina (the Panthers were one of the league’s better teams once Matt Moore took over).

The NFL will try to copyright “Two Dat”. Because when a team repeats in the NFL, you know there’s money to be made.